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Transient Global Amnesia (Newsletter)

Subject: Transient Global Amnesia (Newsletter)
by TheFool on 2011/10/15 15:00:25

A lot of my inspiration for these conversation topics come from WNYC's Radiolab and this one is no exception. In the episode Loops they describe the condition Transient Global Amnesia, which is something I had never heard of. If I understand it correctly it is the temporary loss of your ability to form short term memories. Yeah, you heard that right, as in, you don't remember what just happened. Interestingly doctors do not know what causes it or how long it lasts, usually less than a day, or for that matter how to fix it.

Well, if you listen to the podcast a daughter and mother pair sit down after the mother is diagnosed and has a conversation that literally resets every 90 seconds. She starts by asking what day it is, then is surprised that she has missed her birthday, the conversation turns to her trying to recall her last memory, the daughter tells her the story of how she ended up here, and the next question is what day is it? What struck me is not only is the flow of the questions nearly identical every single time, but the way she says things is the same. Every time she laughs the same, she says "darn" the same way every time she realizes she missed her birthday, it's SUPER creepy.

So where am I going with this? Free will. I've always tried to explain to people that in the right conditions humans don't exhibit free will at all. You study it in consumer behavior class, but basically the reality is in the above example it shows that humans can be 100% predictable. Faced with the same set of variables the woman replies with the exact same answers every, single, time. Since she has no short term memory it is the only time that I have ever been able to cite something as a specific example of this phenomena.

This leaves us with a heavy question: There are basically 3 main paths you can pick on the debate on free will. 1) We don't have any free will. If we knew all the variables we could accurately predict behavior with 100% accuracy from birth to death. 2) We have complete free will and our decisions are inherently unpredictable. 3) We have some kind of mix of free will, where our moment to moment decisions are predictable but taken as a whole we are unpredictable. In this example a second key question arises, where is that dividing line between what makes us predictable and what makes us unpredictable?

So that's it guys: Do we have free will? Is the above series of events definitive proof that, at least to some degree, that we do not? Listen to the podcast yourself from about 7:30 ~ 15:00.

I know if you reply it will be because you have no free will to resist! Or is it because you have free will to not listen to my jibes? Mysterious.

Words from The Fool:

I'm certainly not the first fool philosopher to discuss this topic. Mostly it ties into religion, which I tend to avoid talking about because people get a little upset over it, occasionally ending in theological genocide. I'll say this though, while the religious minds of today seem to be focused on the idea that we DO have free will it was not always this way. At the dawn of the age of reason people like Laplace and Luther had a great number of followers that believed that their lives were pre-determined. While modern quantum theory has rendered these arguments more confusing than ever, one thing is for certain, there's no easy answer to be found. No fooling

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